Rus­sia blasts new US sanc­tions as 'the­atre of the ab­surd'

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - An­drew Roth in Moscow and Ju­lian Borger in Wash­ing­ton

Rus­sian of­fi­cials re­acted with out­rage and mar­kets slumped on Thurs­day morn­ing fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of tough new US sanc­tions over Rus­sia’s al­leged use of a nerve agent in the Sal­is­bury at­tack.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the sanc­tions were “ab­so­lutely un­law­ful and don't con­form to in­ter­na­tional law”, as politi­cians vowed to re­spond with coun­ter­mea­sures, which could in­clude bans on the ex­ports of rock­ets or re­sources for man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“The the­atre of the ab­surd con­tin­ues,” tweeted Dmitry Polyan­skiy, first deputy per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Rus­sia to the UN. “No proofs, no clues, no logic, no pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence, just highly-like­lies. Only one rule: blame every­thing on Rus­sia, no mat­ter how ab­surd and fake it is. Let us wel­come the United Sanc­tions of Amer­ica!”

One se­nior Rus­sian MP called the US a “po­lice state”.

A mem­ber of the Duma’s for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee, Leonid Slut­sky, said Rus­sia could block ex­ports of RD-180 rocket en­gines to the US as a po­ten­tial coun­ter­mea­sure, the RIA Novosti news agency re­ported.

The United States an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that it would im­pose re­stric­tions on the ex­port of sen­si­tive tech­nol­ogy to Rus­sia be­cause of its use of a nerve agent in the at­tempted mur­der of a for­mer Rus­sian spy and his daugh­ter in Bri­tain.

The State De­part­ment said the new sanc­tions would come into ef­fect on 22 Au­gust and would be fol­lowed by much more sweep­ing mea­sures, such as sus­pend­ing diplo­matic re­la­tions and re­vok­ing Aeroflot land­ing rights, if Rus­sia did not take “re­me­dial” ac­tion within 90 days.

Moscow is not ex­pected to agree to the re­sponse re­quired by US leg­is­la­tion, which in­cludes open­ing up Rus­sian sci­en­tific and se­cu­rity fa­cil­i­ties to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tions to as­sess whether it is pro­duc­ing chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons in vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.

“Cer­tainly it is re­ally up to Rus­sia to make that de­ci­sion, whether they meet this cri­te­ria,” a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. “The se­cond round of sanc­tions … are in gen­eral more dra­co­nian than the first round.”

Rus­sian mar­kets took the news poorly. Stocks in Aeroflot, the coun­try’s na­tional car­rier, fell by 12% in trad­ing be­fore lunchtime on Thurs­day over con­cerns that its di­rect flights be­tween Rus­sia and the US could be halted en­tirely.

Rus­sia’s cur­rency, the rou­ble, fell to be­low 66 to the US dol­lar, a 4% slide from Wed­nes­day morn­ing that be­gan with the leak of a sep­a­rate draft sanc­tions bill that could see Rus­sia named a state spon­sor of ter­ror.

The US has al­ready ex­pelled 60 sus­pected Rus­sian spies as part of a global re­sponse to the March at­tack in Sal­is­bury against Sergei Skri­pal, a for­mer colonel in Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, and his daugh­ter, Yu­lia, in which a rare and po­tent Rus­sian-made nerve agent, novi­chok, was found to have been used.

The Krem­lin has ve­he­mently de­nied British ac­cu­sa­tions that it or­ches­trated the at­tacks. Since the March at­tack, two other res­i­dents from the Sal­is­bury area have been poi­soned by ex­po­sure to novi­chok.

Dawn Sturgess died in July af­ter han­dling a small bot­tle con­tam­i­nated with the nerve agent on 30 June. Her part­ner, Char­lie Row­ley, was also taken ill af­ter be­ing ex­posed to the nerve agent.

The new sanc­tions in­volve the ex­port of a long list of equip­ment deemed to be sen­si­tive on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds, in­clud­ing gas tur­bine en­gines, in­te­grated cir­cuits, and cal­i­bra­tion equip­ment used in avion­ics. A US of­fi­cial said that about half of US ex­ports to Rus­sia con­tained sen­si­tive com­po­nents. At the mo­ment, such ex­ports are con­sid­ered on a case-by-case ba­sis. Af­ter 22 Au­gust, there will be a “pre­sump­tion of de­nial”, mean­ing that the de­fault po­si­tion will be for such ex­ports to be banned.

“We are ap­ply­ing these sanc­tions against es­sen­tially all Rus­sian sta­te­owned or state-funded en­ter­prises. That’s po­ten­tially a very great sweep of the Rus­sian econ­omy in terms of the po­ten­tially af­fected end users,” a se­nior of­fi­cial said. “It may be that some­thing on the or­der of 70% of their econ­omy and maybe 40% of their work­force falls within those en­ter­prises.”

The of­fi­cial said the value of the af­fected ex­ports could run to “hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars”.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has sig­nalled, how­ever, that it in­tends to grant ex­emp­tions for for­eign as­sis­tance, co­op­er­a­tion on space projects and avi­a­tion safety.

The se­nior of­fi­cial would not say if new in­tel­li­gence had trig­gered the sanc­tions, but they come at a time when UK au­thor­i­ties ap­pear to be mak­ing progress in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. As the Guardian re­vealed this week, the British govern­ment is poised to sub­mit an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest to Moscow for two Rus­sians sus­pected of car­ry­ing out the Sal­is­bury at­tack.

A British govern­ment spokesman wel­comed Wash­ing­ton’s an­nounce­ment, say­ing: “The strong in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to the use of a chem­i­cal weapon on the streets of Sal­is­bury sends an un­equiv­o­cal mes­sage to Rus­sia that its provoca­tive, reck­less be­hav­iour will not go un­chal­lenged.”

The sanc­tions are the lat­est in a se­ries of tough mea­sures ap­proved against Rus­sia that seem at odds with Trump’s own re­luc­tance to crit­i­cise Putin pub­licly.

Dur­ing a jar­ring pub­lic ap­pear­ance in Helsinki last month, Trump ap­peared to dis­re­gard his own se­nior in­tel­li­gence chief’s tes­ti­mony that Rus­sia had tried to in­ter­fere in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, and the Sal­is­bury chem­i­cal at­tack was barely ad­dressed at all. But while Trump has acted def­er­en­tially to­ward the Rus­sian leader in pub­lic, the harsh mea­sures in the sanc­tions bill are largely reg­u­lated by a US law on the use of chem­i­cal weapons, and leave the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion lit­tle room to ma­noeu­vre.

Pho­to­graph: Ana­toly Malt­sev/EPA

The new round of sanc­tions ap­pear at odds with Don­ald Trump’s own re­luc­tance to crit­i­cise Vladimir Putin pub­licly, as dis­played at their Helsinki sum­mit.

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